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Toilet practice offends dignity


NHS organisations have complained about cleaning staff of the opposite gender entering single-sex toilets.

Organisations responding anonymously to a Department of Health consultation on hospital cleaning standards complained that “privacy and dignity” was affected when male cleaners entered female toilets that were in use, or vice versa.

One respondent said: “This poor practice is potentially resulting in offences to decency every time an opposite sex worker arrives to inspect or clean. This is totally unacceptable and is undermining what nurses are trying to achieve.

“Nurses are striving to promote privacy and dignity and single sex facilities on the wards, this must be extended to other areas of the hospital if a culture of equality is to be achieved.”

The “discomfort and distress” toilet users might feel when a cleaner of the opposite sex entered could even be regarded as harassment under sex discrimination legislation, one NHS body warned in its formal response.

Respondents blamed management and cleaning contractors for the problem.

“There appears to be confusion amongst cleaning companies and facility managers regarding the relevant employment legislation and how it applies to situations involving cross sex observation” one said.

The consultation responses were among the 458 received by the DH, National Patient Safety Agency and the British Standards Institution after they invited organisations to comment on new hospital cleanliness standards.

The responses were revealed to Nursing Times after a Freedom of Information request.

The consultation closed in February. A DH spokeswoman said there was no date set for releasing the new standard.


Readers' comments (53)

  • Oh for crying out loud! Isn't the most important aspect the fact that they ARE being cleaned? A bit of common sense would sort out any dignity issues (knocking and a clearly visible sign when its being cleaned anyone????!!!!!)

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  • The complainants are being absolutely ridiculous.

    Most of the sites I've worked on nationally and internationally for the last 8 or so years have male and female cleaners - they normally just put a sign outside the toilet doors advising people that a cleaner of the opposite gender is in attendance.

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  • don't nurses have any control at all of the wards they are nursing their patients in anymore. it's high time they pulled their socks up and put thngs right to care for their patients properly or they shouldn't be permitted to practice.

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  • Having worked in private companies for fifteen years I'm quite used to 'other sex' cleaners cleaning the toilets. If a lady is cleaning the toilet I am in she will simply knock and ask if anyone is there. I will say that I am and she will wait until I am done (or more often do another task nearby). When cleaning she will leave a sign and vice versa for men cleaning a womens toilet.

    There is absolutely no dignity issue there and it is very common practice in many places. Cleaners shouldn't just walk in but with a minor bit of common sense the issue simply ceases to be a problem.

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  • With the current economic crisis, job losses, restructuring, incresed work loads for clinicians, the whole Staffordshire hospital issue relating to low staffing levels and people want to complain about a member of the oposite sex cleaning toilets?
    As a clinician and a potential patient, I dont care who is cleaning the toilet just as long as it IS BEING CLEANED! Surely that is the main priority? Have they gone a little bit PC crazy?

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  • This is just a load of toilet contents...

    In Amsterdam men and women shared changing rooms for staff - we were fine. A man in the ladies loo - do you not shut the cubicle door? And if were having a pee I would be fine with a woman in the room [but would prefer it if she waited till I stopped before cleaning the urinal.

    Some people need to get a life.

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  • The most unbelievable part of this whole saga is that the organisations responded anonymously!!!!

    I thought as a society we were a bit more able to talk about issues surrounding the smallest room in the house!

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  • John Spashett | 9-Nov-2010 9:05 am

    For patients ill in hospital with all their mobility, bowel and bladder problems or with diarrhoea or urinary incontinence or with a catheter or stoma this is a very different matter than for a young man just going in and out for a quick pee!
    think about it! I imagine for patients it is bad enough if nurses or visitors have to accompany them let alone the presence of cleaners and especially those of the opposite sex and the elderly may be even more sensitive than the younger generations although kids are ofen, rightly so, also prudish. EVERY HUMAN BEING, WITHOUT FURTHER DISCUSSION, AND ESPECIALLY SICK PATIENTS, HAVE A RIGHT TO PRIVACY AND RESPECT FOR THEIR DIGNITY

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  • comments above - our patients are NOT in Holland or in private companies and the English have very different attitudes to the Dutch and other Europeans about privacy and sexuality which must be respected. We are not living in a third world country yet and the economic crisis cannot be used for an excuse for everything and especially not for lack of cleaning and poor hygiene in hospitals. If patients wish to maintain their privacy and dignity it is their right and it is up to nurses to see that this is carried out or risk breeching the code of professional conduct for which they should be investigated for negligence for failure of duty towards their patients.

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  • I think a bit of common sense is in order here. Cleaners do not have to enter the toilet whilst anyone is using it, and they can put up a sign saying a cleaner of the opposite sex is in it. It only takes a few minutes, during which time potential users can either wait or find another toilet.

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